By Jim Ferri
Most of the good places in Paris that provide an interesting view of the city, such as the tops of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triumph, charge an admission. There’s no charge to climb the steps up to Sacré-Cœur, however, and your reward will be a beautiful view of the city. Another bonus is that you’ll be right next to charming Montmartre, worth a trip itself despite it having become such a tourist trap.
Although it’s usually quiet at most other times, Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner can become quite lively on Sunday mornings. It’s at that time that all sorts of people stand up and speak their minds on all sorts of subjects, arguing or debating other speakers and passerby’s who come to listen, talk and heckle. You’ll find it right near the Marble Arch tube station. Bring an open mind and your own soapbox.
There’s nothing that draws more tourists, especially we royalty-infatuated Americans, than the pomp, ceremony, and color of the changing of a royal guard. What great about it is that you can find it in many countries including Britain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Monaco, among others. And you needn’t always traipse to the palace for the show. In London, for example, you can see the Changing The Queen’s Life Guard at Whitehall.
You can’t get a good sense of the history of Rome without walking about the Roman Forum. It’s now all in ruins, of course, but for history buffs as well as the rest of us, with a little imagination you can get a sense of the great buildings that once stood here, and the people in them that ruled the far-flung Roman Empire. For a nice overview of the ruins go up Capitoline Hill and walk around behind the buildings at the top.
Completed in 125 AD, The Pantheon is the best-preserved building from ancient Rome. It’s also one of the most beautiful. While it is an engineering marvel – its dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world – it is also incredibly beautiful. It’s said that when Michelangelo first saw it he exclaimed it looked more like the work of angels, not humans. See for yourself.
The Berlin Wall is a hefty chunk of history about the Cold War. Although there are parts of it scattered all around the globe, there is not a better place to see it than at the East Side Gallery in Berlin. It is a 1.3km (.8 mile) intact section of the wall covered with more than 100 original paintings, making it the largest open-air art museum in the world.
Take a walk up in the glass cupola to the roof terrace of the Reichstag for a beautiful view of Berlin. Itself a work of art, it has been visited by millions of people wince it was complete. You need to register online for a free ticket, or you can try for same-day admission (which I’ve done successfully twice) at the Visitor’s Service Centre opposite the Reichstag. Be sure to bring your passport.
Ireland is a country that reveres its traditional music, and there’s no city where you’ll hear more of it than in Galway on the west coast of the country. The city itself makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. Step into any pub where you hear music, and you’ll realize you have. And you needn’t even buy a pint (although you’ll likely want to after a while).
Prague Castle, a beautiful castle set high on a hill, is the number one tourist attraction in the city. There is a fee for entering certain areas of the castle, but it’s free to wander its grounds. Time it to arrive at noon for the changing of the guards.
There are plenty of places to view the beautiful Danube in Budapest, but the best is on the Buda side of the river at the neo-Gothic Fisherman’s Bastion. Its name is derived from the fisherman’s guild that was responsible for defending that section of the city walls in the Middle Ages. Go at sunset for a grand show.
On a warm weekend afternoon in London take a walk along the Thames starting at Queen Elizabeth Hall by Waterloo Bridge. Continue southward along the promenade towards the London Eye, past the musicians, mimes, and families that usually crowd the area. For a special treat take a ride in the Eye, and then later watch the sun as it sets behind Big Ben and Parliament.
Venice and music go together as well as gondolas and water. The string quartets in St. Mark’s Square make that magical place even more magical, especially in the evening. While you’re always most comfortable lingering at a café table over wine or coffee, of course, it also costs nothing to wander about and absorb the atmosphere. La dolce vita it is.
Austria’s Salzburg is an incredibly beautiful city that’s made for walking. Walk through the beautiful Mirabell Gardens, where parts of the Sound of Music were filmed, then cross the river into the old town. You can wander around here for hours but keep walking in the direction of Salzburg Cathedral and the famous Residenzplatz. On the other side of the cathedral you can watch (or play) street chess with large oversized pieces.
Istanbul’s 400-year old Sultan Ahmet Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that adorn its interior. With its six slender minarets and cascading domes, it is a historic symbol of Istanbul. As beautiful as you may find it inside, it’s real beauty is seen outside, especially when it is illuminated at twilight. There’s a nice view of it from the side nearest Hagia Sofia, and a more comfortable one at one of the outdoor tables in one of the nearby restaurants.
It’s one of the largest covered markets in the world, an ancient labyrinth of 61 streets with thousands of shops visited by more than one-quarter million people every day. You would expect Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to be chaotic, but it’s not, although it can be confusing due to its size. It’s colorful, and you’ll feel that you stepped back into another century.
Vigeland Park, a monumental sculpture park in Oslo’s Frogner Park is the most popular attraction in Norway. I find it incredible that one man, Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, could create the 212 life-size sculptures in the park. The nude sculptures show the breath of humanity in all stages of life with the center of it all a 50-foot-tall monolith carved from a single rock.
If you want to see the wild side of Ireland, take the little road from Donegal out to Slieve League, the highest cliff face in Europe. It’s beautiful wild country where the Atlantic meet Ireland with a vengeance. The owner of my B&B told me that when I came to a gate I should continue by car rather than walking. “Just remember to close the gate behind you, so the sheep don’t get out,” he said.
Architect Antoni Gaudí made Barcelona the tourist magnet it is today with such architectural masterpieces as La Sagrada Família, Casa Batllo, and La Pedrera. For something entirely different visit his Parc Güell, which he originally planned to be a residential neighborhood for wealthy Barcelonans. It’s a place where a flight of fancy meets nature, with a great view back over the city.
I’m embarrassed to say that in all the years I’ve traveled to Paris I never visited the Jardin du Luxembourg, until a couple of years ago. I immediately fell in love with this incredibly beautiful 60+ acre park with French and English gardens with more than 100 statues spread throughout. Chairs line its paths to allow people to relax, read a book, or picnic. Oo-la-la.
I’ve always wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall, the defensive fortification built by Roman Emperor Hadrian. What makes it amazing is that it was built in 122 AD and reaches across the entire width of England, 73 miles from sea to sea across some of the wildest and most dramatic country in England. Since I hadn’t done my homework before I set out it took me a while to find it, but the reward was great. Judging by the number of hikers I saw, it appears to be a popular hiking trip.
You needn’t be out in the wilds of Britain to take a fascinating hike, just head to Scotland and take a walk along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The Royal Mile, which is likely the city’s oldest street, begins at the gate of Edinburgh Castle and terminates at the gates of the Palace of Palace of Holyroodhouse. In between you’ll find numerous shops, restaurant, historic sites and if your timing is right, the occasional bagpiper.
The Alfama, the oldest area of Lisbon, tumbles down the hillside between the São Jorge Castle and the Tejo River. It’s a maze of narrow streets, often lined with colorful buildings and plenty of cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find several historic sites here such as the Sé Cathedral and the National Pantheon, the burial place of important Portuguese, including the explorers Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator.
One of the wonderful things about visiting London is that all of the top museums and galleries in the city are free. This includes such wonderful and world-renowned institutions as the British Museum, the Tate, the Victoria and Albert, the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, and many, many more.
Along with the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most recognizable symbols of Paris. On Île de la Cité, it’s a beautiful and historic place, which also is quite beautiful inside. The last time I visited I was enchanted by a boy’s choir in rehearsal, as their voices drifted through the air of the great cathedral. Be aware that there is a fee to make the long 402-step climb to the roof.
Walk Down A Road in Ireland’s Aran Islands
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Ireland’s bleak but beautiful Aran Islands, do yourself a favor: go out for an hour’s walk. I guarantee it will last much longer as your are drawn further along the barren, green countryside where checkerboards of stonewalls cover the land, and jaunting carts run all about. It is Ireland at its purest.